In between creating some amazing artwork, Chris managed to squeeze some time in to knock out a crowd-pleasing novel, The Phlebotomist (out now with Angry Robot) and still find time for his family, a full-time job, and answer a few questions for Book Blurb.
To start with, would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself?
Thank you for having me! I live in Dallas, Texas, where all the heat in the world comes from. I spend most of my time being a dad to my six-year-old, and I fill the time gaps writing, drawing album covers, and practicing law.
From artist to storyteller, can you tell us what drew you to writing The Phlebotomist?
I’d been writing novels for several years when I had the idea for The Phlebotomist, though none of them had been published. In fact, I was in the middle of writing a different book when the premise for this one came to me. I was upset about the fast-moving, malignant blend of aristocratic authoritarianism that was spreading through our government and a premise came to mind. I didn’t want to write a straight-up political screed, so I couched it in a dystopian story and tied it to a well-loved trope that I’m not going to disclose because spoilers! Sorry!
Your artwork is stunning, were you not tempted to do the cover for The Phlebotomist?
Thank you! This is an interesting story. One of the first things many of my family and friends said when I told them I had a book coming out was to suggest that I do the cover. If you’ve seen my work, it’s very art nouveau and metal-y, and absolutely NOT the style I wanted for the cover. My only strongly worded desire to Angry Robot was that it be pink and gold. I wanted a book so pink that it burnt people’s eyeballs out. Beyond that, though, I was not tempted to do the cover. Soon, they began sending me their cover mocks. They had taken a medical-illustration style angle, which I had not expected at all, but quickly warmed to. It really was a perfect fit for this story, with its heavy reliance on medical science. Their very patient designer, Glen Wilkins, had mocked up the pink cover with an anatomical heart surrounded by flowers. I loved it, but wanted to tailor the image to my story, and so asked to illustrate it. They agreed and the rest is history! The pinkest book to ever exist!
Can you tell us a little about your writing method, are you a plotter or pantster?
Oh, I love this. I am an unabashed pantser once I sit down to write. With The Phlebotomist, I had the idea one evening and slammed out the first fifteen pages the following day (at work, lol). Since then, I’ve become a little more deliberate, and while I don’t outline, I do a LOT of thinking. I will brainstorm a book or short story for days or even weeks, until my mind is screaming to be uncorked. That’s when I’ll begin. I suppose it depends on the type of story you’re writing, but for me, premise comes first, then character, then plot. I find that if the first two are fleshed out well enough, the plot kind of sorts itself out. So, my initial brainstorms focus on the premise and the characters. When I feel those have enough momentum to carry a story, it’s time to go. I doubt I’m alone in that the more I write, the more I discover about the story and how it unfolds. By about a third of the way through, I begin to get an idea for how it will end.
You’ve written so many amazing short stories, The Eighth Fathom comes to mind, will we see a collection published any time soon?
That is very nice of you to say. There’s got to be demand for a collection. As someone who is pretty new to the scene, that just isn’t in the cards right now. Maybe that will come with time if the book does well and I continue to publish. It would be great in the future, but my goals now are to hone my craft and write the best stories I can. Glad you mentioned “The Eighth Fathom”. It’s super weird and different, and I have a lot of personal affection for the lead character, an audacious octopus named Ook.
Who would you say were your most significant influences, if any, when starting out both in the art world and writing?
With regard to art, my influences depend on the medium. For oil painting and realistic figurative work, it’s got to include Jenny Saville, Jeremy Geddes, Michael Borremans, Nick Alm, Lola Gil. For illustrative work, usually done in pen and watercolor, it’s Alphonse Mucha, Aaron Horkey, Pushead, Frank Frazetta, Katie Shocrylas, John Baizley, and others.
Writing is weird. I am influenced in so many different ways by others. I can’t think of any author that I can put under the heading of “general influence.” I find myself pushed by certain writers in discrete ways. Jeff Vandermeer and Tamsyn Muir inspire me to go utterly bonkers with concept. Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who write The Expanse, have set an example for how to propel story forward with no word wasted, as well as how to keep numerous threads going in a way that doesn’t get boggy. Martha Wells, specifically with her Murderbot Diaries, has reminded me that stories don’t have to be riddled with mystery and tied up with plot twists to be good. If the fundamentals are good—and with Murderbot, they are so good—then you don’t need all the other stuff (though I’m still quite prone to it). I get a lift from the rich, beautiful language of Indra Das, who wrote The Devourers, and the inventiveness and unapologetic short fiction of Maura Yzmore. How long do you have?
And finally, could you tell us what you are currently working on at the moment?
Speaking of concepts that are utterly bonkers, I’m about 80% done with a novel I started in June. It’s tough to frame. Sort of The Matrix, but with angels, and they’re all drunk on turpentine. Oh, and there’s an unrequited love story in there too. Pitching is hard. Once I get that done, I’ll let it sit and jump into some new short fiction. I have a curious piece coming out in December with Metaphorosis, which is where “The Eighth Fathom” was published. And if The Phlebotomist does well, there might be a sequel.
Chris lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, daughter, and a fluctuating herd of animals resembling dogs (one is almost certainly a goat). He writes short stories and novels, “plays” the drums, and draws album covers for metal bands. As a lawyer, he goes after companies that poison people. His short fiction has appeared in or is forthcoming from Metaphorosis, The Molotov Cocktail Magazine, Ghost Parachute, The Ginger Collect Magazine, Tales To Terrify, Trembling With Fear, Ellipsis Zine, Defenestration and others.
You can find him online: